1. Slow Your Roll
As water temperatures warm and spring gives way to summer, walleye go on a tear, eating up to three per cent of their body weight daily. When that happens, it’s time to try the slow-death method, which I consider to be the best walleye numbers game in town, especially when you find a school of fish on a relatively flat bottom. And it’s such an easy technique to perfect.
Start with a seven- to eight-foot, medium-action baitcasting rod, and a reel spooled with 10-pound-test monofilament, or gel-spun line such as FireLine or Sufix Fuse. Attach a one- to three-ounce bottom bouncer, depending on the depth, and then add a three- to four-foot-long leader of eight- to 10-pound-test monofilament or fluorocarbon. Finish the rig by tying on a #2 Tru-Turn Aberdeen hook (the one with the kink in it) or a similarly bent #2 Mustad Slow Death hook.
When slow death was first developed, it was compulsory to thread a nightcrawler onto the hook, sliding the shank through the worm until the nose covered the eye of the hook. Then you would pinch off the tail so that roughly an inch of the crawler trailed behind the hook, corkscrewing along as you trolled at approximately one mile an hour.
That’s still a deadly way to go, but when perch and panfish are mixed in with the walleye, you often feel so many bites mangling your crawler that you spend more time tending to your bait than fishing. That’s why I now use much firmer soft-plastic scented worms such as GULP!, Powerbait, Exude and Trigger X. These tough-as-nails artificial worms also let you experiment with walleye-attracting colours—something you can’t do with the real thing.
Keep in mind that you won’t get quite as many bites with the bogus baits as you would using real crawlers, but you will catch more fish due to the simple fact your lure is in the water so much longer. When you feel a walleye smack your corkscrewing soft-plastic nub, sweep the rod forward. If you miss the fish the first time, you can just drop the bait back and nail it on the second, third or fourth hit because it can’t otherwise steal your bait or alter its action.
2. Go For a Swim
If the slow-death trolling technique is the answer for catching numbers of summer walleye when the water warms up, the route to landing the fish of a lifetime is casting four-, five- and six-inch soft-plastic swimbaits such as the Xzone Swammer, Bass Magnet Shift’R Shad, Berkley Hollow Belly Swimbait, Mr. Twister Sassy Shad and Trigger X Paddletail Worm pinned to 1⁄2- to one-ounce jig heads.
How good is the technique? Last summer, a couple of friends and I caught more walleye weighing more than 10 pounds—anchored by a mammoth 35-inch, 15-pound leviathan—than ever before, and at least three-quarters of the giants ate a swimbait.
You can attribute much of the system’s success to the heavy lead jig that forces you to pick up your game and play aggressively. I’ll typically choose a 3⁄4-ounce, long-shanked bullet or darter head jig when I’m fishing in water that’s only 10 feet deep. Add in the weight of the big, bulky soft-plastic and the combination tips the scales at close to an ounce.
For this beefy package, you need a seven-foot-long, medium-heavy-action spinning rod and a 2500 or 3000 series reel spooled with a quality, non-stretch, 14-pound-test gel-spun line, such as FireLine, Nanofil or Sufix Gel. I always add an 18-inch-long, 15-pound-test fluorocarbon leader to the main line using back-to-back uni-knots. If you think this sounds more like a pike or small muskie set-up, you’d be right, but remember what I said about breaking the rules for giant walleye?
Cast the jig-and-swimbait combination anywhere you think big walleye have gathered and let it settle to the bottom. I especially like fishing along the deep, sparse edge of a crisp, green cabbage bed. Snap up the rod tip to get the paddletail kicking, pause for a brief second while you retrieve your line, then drop the tip back down and repeat the procedure until the jig and swimbait are below the boat. The other key to retrieving swimbaits properly is to keep them within a foot of the bottom at all times.
When you feel that first walleye hit during one of the split-second pauses, you’ll be sure you’ve hooked an incidental pike, muskie or lake trout. But don’t worry—it’s most likely a big walleye. And when you land it, nine times out of 10 you’ll be amazed to discover the fish has wolfed down your entire substantial offering, with just the tip of the jig sticking out between its lips.
3. Hit the Beach
Sand beaches are another hugely overlooked walleye haunt that produce from late spring until early fall. That’s right—the same spots that are crowded with swimmers, sunbathers and party animals on hot summer days are often swarming with walleye.
But here, timing and weather are everything. If it’s a cool, blustery day, forget it, because you won’t find any walleye frequenting the beaches. Just like people, they’ll only flock to the sand when the weather is hot and calm—anything more than a slight to moderate breeze blows out the shiners, which are key to the pattern.
Both emerald and spot-tail shiners spawn and feed on the sandy shorelines, often in massive schools. If you pay close attention, you’ll often see the surface shimmer and ripple when a school swims by. Sometimes you’ll even see a half-dozen shiners jump out of the water because there’s a school of hungry walleye chasing them.
Timing is also important because many of the more popular sand beaches can get crowded and unfishable during the daytime. That’s why I like to hit them early in the morning and again late in the evening. And a variety of presentations excel, from casting and trolling slender, shiner-shaped crankbaits and jerkbaits to casting jigs and soft-plastics, especially swimbaits. Just remember that on the hottest, calmest days, the fish will often be feasting in much shallower water than you’d ever imagine, often less than waist deep.